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Hunter and DeVito are just so nice.

By Phillip Rhodes

NOVEMBER 23, 1998:  Nice is a word with a split personality. How many times have you found yourself saying with a strained smile, "Oh yes, [a friend's new lover, your great aunt's holiday fruitcake, or a funeral ceremony] was very nice." It's not so much a compliment as an easy out. Nice is bland subterfuge behind which true feelings hide.

Then again, there must be a reason the word nice remains in the English vocabulary, despite our collective propensity to use the word in settings completely opposite of its true meaning. Some things really are nice. Not seriously consequential, not extraordinary, but just pleasant, unassuming, and generally...nice. Like cocktail jazz, a chocolate mousse, or Living Out Loud.

The directorial debut of Richard LaGravanese (screenwriter of The Fisher King and The Horse Whisperer), Living Out Loud is an interesting study of loneliness, illustrated from the vantage point of a rich, recently divorced, forty-something Manhattanite. No fear; there are none of the histrionics of First Wives Club or Fatal Attraction. Instead, Living Out Loud steps up to the plate and looks being alone, with all of its bitterness and comedy, square in the eye.

The ever-radiant Holly Hunter stars as Judith, a pretty, petite blonde whose successful cardiologist husband (Martin Donovan) has left her for, surprise, a younger woman. Judith shelved her dreams of becoming a pediatrician to become a nurse and a doctor's wife, building her life completely around her husband's. Judith is left with no children (the cardiologist husband was too selfish for them) and no friends (Judith candidly admits she left her old friends behind because their husbands didn't make as much money as hers, and they couldn't afford to do the things she did).

Fortunately, Judith is quite likable—a funny, warm, and completely human poor little rich girl. Hunter invests Judith with subtle humor and grace, carrying off the character's complexity with effortless ease.

Down in the dumps on the ninetieth floor, Judith begins to fill the vacuum in her life with fantasy. Should she adopt a crack baby? No, the snobs in her building would only make fun of her crack baby. Should she have stabbed her ex-husband? More than likely she would've only served a little time. Oh well. Should she jump out of the window and end it all? Only if her husband and his new wife happen to be strolling home directly below.

Of course, Judith is fated to meet someone to share her loneliness and bring her out of fantasy and into reality. One of those people appears right under her slightly upturned nose. Danny DeVito, in a touching performance, is Pat, the doorman for Judith's swank co-op and her companion ship in the night. Pat and Judith make an unlikely, but charming pair as they attempt to navigate their way back to life and love.

Queen Latifah, in a surprisingly good turn, is jazz singer Liz Bailey, a diva whose acquaintance Judith first makes into an amusing fantasy, then into reality. Bailey knows the blues, making her the perfect companion for lonely Judith.

LaGravanese and director of photography John Bailey maintain a consistently intimate mood and deserve praise for keeping a tight rein on a concept that could easily stray and descend into cliché. They handle Judith's whimsical flights of fancy with deadpan gravity, never getting gimmicky. Seamlessly lifting the curtain on Judith's psyche, they give literal insight and added depth to the character. The casting director also warrants a nod. Hunter, DeVito, and Latifah make an excellent team.

Judith's torpor lifts by increments as her wounds heal, bridging the gap between her inner world and the real world around her. Basically, Judith begins to...live out loud. To borrow the words of Gloria Gaynor, Judith will survive; she's got all her life to live and all her love to give.

See, I told you it was a nice movie.

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